What do you think?
As you wake in the morning, and go to sleep at night, and whatever dreams may come – so you are. The sum total of your experience. Likewise, we as a species are the sum total of our experience. There is a world beyond the senses, but we are only ever speaking of our experience of it.
We organise that experience in various ways, corresponding to (1) brain structure (2) the geometry of sharing ideas between ourselves, as well as (3) integrating it with past experiences that we already have.
There is no reason to make things more complicated than that. While we look at our life in this way and that way, from different aspects, it is all manipulating this whole. You can look at your world with the eyes of a child, of an old man or woman, or suppress your self-consciousness as the Eastern philosophers try to do and see yourself as an uncarved block, but it’s all the same mind. We can create categories to better structure and further our experience, but they are just that – our categories, things that we made rather than things that we found, ways to organise our experience, and things that we may often have to re-evaluate and even overthrow. ‘Reality’ is not something that we find, but something that we manufacture.
So while there are socialist theories – you can make as many theories as you like, all scientifically testing the data available – there isn’t a philosophy, at least not in the conventional sense. There is only pulling apart and better reforming our experience, in cogitation and conversation, no more magically than one might knead and pull apart dough while making bread.
It would be folly of course, as we said, to think that there was no world beyond the senses. But it is simply not what we are talking about. Everything we think to say about the world, we say about ourselves. We are not gods, looking down upon our own creation. Instead, we come after the fact, back-seat drivers in an organism we will never truly know. We are dragged through the world as if through a thorn bush at midnight, and all we know of it is by examining our scratches and scars. Similarly, we interact with the world according to our own plan, like children on their backs making snow angels in the snow.
Animals evolve: they mutate, and then these mutations are tested against the world beyond the genome, with some prospering and some dying. In a similar way we simply value what we value, with modifications, and act accordingly. These values are then tested for fitness – do we prosper or suffer? – and modified, without ever being true except in their own terms, from the earliest human and probably far further back, up to today. It’s like playing that old game Mastermind, where you guess what pattern of colours are behind the screen, except here when you lift the screen at the end of the game there is nothing to see.
You may by now be firmly grabbing the arms of your chair, testing for your thoughts to be real. You may even, as Samuel Johnson did, kick a stone to show how real your experience is. But these themselves are just more experiences, if in a certain category of experiences that we use to judge the whole. Not just touch: we have many. ‘Seeing is believing’. I feel it in my gut’. ‘It’s beautiful’. ‘It’s mathematically pure’. ‘It feels logical’. ‘I experience the Divine’. All of these are so many ways of assuring ourselves that this concept rather than that is the right one, is somehow true. But they are no more or less substantial than the rest of our experience, except in that this is how we organise our experiences. Certainty is key to action: but wisdom lies always in doubt.
This is all that is meant by dialectical thinking. Instead of the commonplace model, of a world of objects viewed by an abstract Self with dreams and desires, for us all the parts of our experience are of the same kind. So for example, a factory is a brick building, a place where things are made, where profit is made, where misery and boredom is experienced, and all are just looking at the same matter from different aspects. You cannot separate the things that a factory makes from the experience of being in it.
There is a world beyond the senses, but we are never talking about it. Rather when we talk about iron, or a factory, or railways, we have the sense of them being heavy, immovable and, in capitalism, not ours, but we should always remember that it is our experience that we are talking about, and that experience of mass is commensurate with the experience of boredom, of misery, of lost love, of a daytime life from schoolroom to factory to office spent trapped inside out of the sunlight. In capitalism we treat commodities as substantial, and the horror of their production as ephemeral. This commonsensical attitude is the capitalist attitude, the attitude of objectification, that makes us credit what seems heavy and dismiss what seems light. It is the alienation that makes us dismiss our feelings in production, our whole, real lives, and only pursue them in the time granted us to wallow in sentimentality in our soap operas, our fictional lives, before bed.
The socialist revolution lies in the healing of this wound.
It is our current, capitalist – or rather, private property – society, that demands that we think in this more complex manner. As the means of life are denied us, we are not only deprived, we are alienated from those aspects of our lives. Any organic relationship between our society, our labour, and the things of life and of enjoyment, is now ruptured – part of our world is made violently inaccessible to us, by a group of people alien to us. As that loss becomes timeworn, and children are born to the alienated world, that situation ceases to be a wrong and becomes a social fact – alienation becomes objectification. And the organic world of both social relations and the means of life, that had been violated, becomes divided into things without persons and persons without things. The Self is established and reinforced, as an isolated person devoid of means and of relations, as the afterimage of a world of commodities.
Because this is the most fiendish aspect of capitalism. What is objectified from us is not a thing, distant in space. It is a portion of our own self. Our minds, objectified, are sliced into a myriad pieces, all with owner’s marks and price tags on them, all but the bleeding remnant of the Self, which is defined by its dismemberment much as a torso is defined by amputation, and then hyper-sentimentalised by the very lack of its real object. We live as starveling lodgers in our own skulls. Capitalism’s daily violations leave constant fresh scars on the psyche, while the world we inherited from our parents is endured as a dull wound. And cruelty on cruelty, we are offered a way back, on an offering of servitude and pain, to reunite with our lost world, but not as a living thing, only a possession, the commodity – much as some eunuchs would keep their testicles, mournfully, in a separate box.
Companionship is replaced by the television and the internet. Security is replaced by rent paid – this month. And feelings turn in on themselves, finding outlets wherever they may. In the end, the old die alone. And whereas we started by producing existing values, such as bread and clothes, by valuing them in part according to the misery involved in their production, now that misery is much of what we produce, and what the rich consume. Our feudal lords at least had taste, and took the best of what we all desired: but the value of a capitalist’s goods lies mainly in the lost lives of those who produced it, with its practical value as a distant echo.
So while the Self is the starting point for capitalist philosophy, it is not a real start, it is the end point of the capitalist process, of the immiseration process of history to date. It is the internalisation of the class struggle, at the point that it has already been lost, accepting this butchering of the human soul as a precondition for thought itself. Rejecting this start point, demanding the end of a condition where one’s own experience is infinitely fragmented and one must go to war with all others in order to regain those objects, even those relations, with force or with money – this is the start point for any revolutionary position. And this is why we are dialectical, because we merely wish to think like human beings and not these one-sided and broken creatures. As Marx put it, the revolutionary cry is ‘I am nothing and should be everything!’.
The revolutionary emotion is shame.